Over the next few weeks Pundit Arena will bring you a new exclusive column titled ‘PA Legends’. We will talk to some of the sport’s biggest names about their careers and opinions on the current game. This week we spoke to a man that needs no introduction, our first ‘PA Legend’ is DJ Carey.
DJ Carey will go down in history as one the finest hurlers to ever play the game, a long and successful career lasting over fifteen years saw the Kilkenny star walk up the Hogan Stand steps on no less than five occasions.
Displaying a strong pedigree from a young age, DJ seamlessly made the transition to the senior ranks. Five All-Ireland medals, ten Leinster championships and nine all-star awards, DJ Carey is undoubtedly one the greatest hurlers of the modern era.
An electric forward, his burst of pace and intelligence of play won the hearts of hurling fans all over the country. The Kilkenny sharp-shooter was a joy to watch, and raised the decibels of all stadiums when in possession of the sliotar.
With an endless list of career highlights, DJ Carey took the time to sit down with Pundit Arena’s Sean Cremin to discuss life before and after hurling.
DJ began by reflecting on his own playing career giving an insight into what it was like to play with Kilkenny. Kilkenny and Tipperary have one of hurling’s longest and most bitter rivalries. The assumption would be that the Premier County provided Kilkenny with some of the toughest battles over DJ’s career. However, he was quick to point out otherwise.
“No, Offaly were our biggest rivals” said Carey. During the 1990s Kilkenny and Offaly regularly played each other in Leinster and also found themselves in two All-Ireland finals in 1998 and 2000, so a further look makes the answer less surprising.
“We had a great underage rivalry with Offaly and grew up playing each other in St. Kieran’s College in Kilkenny and Birr Community School. We also had some great battles with Wexford”.
Hurling followers witnessed some great battles between the Leinster rivals and it was very interesting to hear a Kilkenny stalwart talk so little about a rivalry with Tipperary.
Being the main man in the Cats attack meant that opponents would often put their best players man-marking Kilkenny’s most dangerous forward. On this point, three particular players were held in a very high regard.
“Brian Whelehan (Offaly half-back), Brian Lohan (Clare full-back) and ‘The Rock’ (Cork full-back Diarmuid O’Sullivan) were the toughest opponents.”
According to DJ there was a lot more to Diarmuid O’Sullivan than the perceived image that people had.
“The Rock was one of the most skilful players I played against, he was hard and tough but not dirty”.
There was also a light hearted joke about the 2003 All-Ireland final when Diarmuid O’Sullivan burst out of defence like back-row forward in the red of Munster as opposed to the red of Cork.
“I was lucky that I was the third fella he met”
Tommy Walsh, JJ Delaney, Eddie Brennan, Michael Kavanagh, Martin Comerford; the list of outstanding teammates goes on and on. Kilkenny were always a dominant force but certain players stood out above most in the black and amber.
“Pat Dwyer, Pat O’Neill, John Power were all outstanding players. If you look at the Railway Cup teams, there were the likes of Martin Storey and Liam Dunne (both Wexford).”
Players’ records were the next point of discussion. One of the most decorated players in the game of hurling is current Kilkenny hurler Henry Shefflin, a man that almost secured a victory for Kilkenny against Galway in the recent Leinster hurling semi-final, further underlining his undoubted class.
“If you look at records, and what a player has achieved in the game, I have been lucky enough and honoured to play with Henry (Shefflin).”
Much of the general hurling debate would escalate about who was better between Carey and Shefflin, but unsurprisingly that question was not asked.
Behind every great team is a great manager and a lot Kilkenny’s success occurred under their current manager, Brian Cody. Of the five All-Ireland medals, three were won during Cody’s incredible reign in charge of the Cats, a reign that is still ongoing.
No manager is more famous in hurling than current Kilkenny manager. His legacy is unquestionable and he is the closest thing hurling has seen to a management personality like Sir Alex Ferguson. Having spent seven years under Cody’s stewardship winning three All-Ireland’s, DJ explained Cody’s biggest strengths.
“Brian Cody’s biggest strength was undoubtedly his honesty.He is very straight forward and people know where they stand. He is very good at keeping players happy.”
It was interesting to hear this from a player who has played under Cody. Cody has the reputation of being a ruthless manager, particularly in dealing with Charlie Carter and Brian McEvoy in the past and currently looking at Brian Hogan and Tommy Walsh. But there was a conviction in that answer that suggested that the players are happy to do what it takes to win at all costs and this ruthless streak is reflected in their players.
“He has the ability to keep things fresh.”
Examples were not given but this may back up the point made previously about dropping certain players at the right time, players who were possibly passed their best. Another example would be Cody’s choices of goalkeeper, a position that he regularly changed (James McGarry, PJ Ryan, David Herity, Eoghan Murphy) to freshen up the team.
Nonetheless it was interesting to hear an inside view on what made Brian Cody and how the Kilkenny success was built.
Life After Hurling
The answer was emphatic when asked about missing the game of hurling.
“Yeah, big time. I miss everything about the game; the training, the camaraderie, match day.”
The retired star is now living in Kildare and raised the point that there is no anticipation or excitement ahead of games.
“There is no build up anymore and I miss that.”
It was clear that the feeling that the constant involvement in the game and being surrounded by hurling matters is very much a thing of the past. The buzz and anticipation that surrounds championship games is something that is no longer felt and is heavily missed by the former stalwart.
As with any career, there are ups and downs, positives and negatives. Speaking on the positives, two career highlights of a glittering career stood out more than any others. This was out of a career that, as previously stated, featured five All-Ireland medals, ten Leinster championships and nine all-star awards.
“There are two major highlights; the first was in 1996 when I won my first county championship with Gowran.”
In that year Young Irelands, Gowran defeated James Stephens after a replay securing his first senior county medal with his club. This was the first highlight that was mentioned.
“The second highlight was 2003 when I captained Kilkenny.”
This was the final All-Ireland medal but the first and only time captaining Kilkenny to All-Ireland success. This was a real career highlight and this particular All-Ireland triumph was held in higher regard than any other Celtic Cross.
Treatment of Club Players
Following the mention of his club, DJ spoke about the current state of the club game and whether he felt club teams, management and players are being treated fairly under the current system.
“Probably not”, was his response to a question on an area that we covered a few weeks ago and there was an interesting suggestion to try and solve the problem.
“I feel that there could be designated intercounty weekends, where more games can take place and this would give more time to clubs.”
Sympathy is felt for the clubs but Carey said,
“It’s a problem that is very difficult to get right. Club matches should never be put off as a result of an intercounty game.”
There have been many examples so far in 2014 of Cork, Waterford, Kilkenny and Galway drawing their games and throwing club fixtures into disarray. The defence was made for club players, saying that club games should get preference after drawn intercounty games.
Evolution of Hurling
1988-2005, seventeen years as one of the best forwards in the game. A very long career with obvious changes as the game continuously evolved and is still evolving to this day. DJ gave his views and how the game changed and developed over his own career. Describing the early stages of his career DJ said things were different to they are now.
“Backs were backs and forwards were forwards. Forwards were there to score and defenders tried to stop forwards from scoring. Defenders used to play from behind but now defenders play from the front and have phenomenal skill levels.”
The change in their role has been so significant that a lot of defenders are now recognised as the country’s best players whereas before forwards would have received greater recognition.
On top of the role of a defender changing and developing, there was plenty to say on the changing role of a forward.
“Forwards are now defenders, they are the first line of defence.”
Starting off, a forward’s job was simply to score but the role of the forward also developed hugely over the last twenty years. Forwards are no longer the solely responsible for putting the ball into the onion bag, they have a much bigger role to play.
“Cork brought a running game that was counteracted by closing down.”
In terms of playing styles, Cork’s running game that came in around 2004-2006 was a big change from the more traditional brands of hurling. This subsequently led to another change in style when Carey’s own Kilkenny took over and began to dominate the game.
“Kilkenny brought a ‘win your own ball’ style to the game where players went and won their own individual battles. It was all about size and power.”
This was a period when Kilkenny brought incredible physicality, intensity and skill and that saw them dominate the game for a decade or so. The high pressure and hard hitting style all came from counteracting Cork’s running game.
He was highly admirable of Clare’s current style, one that saw them reach the summit of hurling last summer.
“Clare have brought a new game, a great running game that is different to Cork (2004-2006) where they work on placing the ball into runners. Kilkenny don’t have that type of game.”
It was successful in claiming last year’s Liam McCarthy Cup but Carey’s comments that Kilkenny don’t have that type of game was an interesting point. It means the Cats cannot copy the Clare template and will have to use a different style, possibly a newer type of game and another evolution in order to be successful again.
Hurling: Progression or Regression?
The game of hurling has changed and evolved, but has it been for better or worse? Many feel the game is at an all-time high but others feel that the core skills and certain aspects of physicality are slowly filtering out of the game. Having played in many different eras DJ was very complimentary to the modern game.
“The game is getting better and better all the time. There is more time being put into it, and yes, it is better now. Are players as naturally talented as they were before? Probably not.
Strong answers from a hurling legend, but he credited the advances in television and media as well as extra resources as the main reasons for the overall improvements in the game.
Injuries were another thing that he referred to, saying that having the best physiotherapists and doctors available now means that players only play if they are passed fit.
“In our day, if you broke a finger, it was allowed to heal for six weeks and you were straight back into play. Nowadays a player must prove his fitness if they are to be selected.”
Players are only allowed to play if they are in peak physical condition, improving the overall level of performance.
“Now you have impact subs”, was another point showing the strength and depth that exist in panels nowadays. Management can afford to hold a player in reserve hoping that they can make an impact from the bench. Examples such as the use of Peter Canavan in the 2003 and 2005 All-Ireland Finals show the forward strides that the game has taken.
Social media, television and growing player profiles were more strong points as to why today’s game is continuously improving.
“The game is getting better and better all the time. Players are constantly being monitored and analysed, reporting has developed and players are constantly being looked at on TV.”
The fact that players are constantly in the public eye means poor performances will be heavily analysed and scrutinised. Players must be at their best or they risk being heavily criticised in the media and by the public. GAA is in the news every day and this has contributed to players improving the levels of performance.
The Sky Deal
The reference to television and media led to a question on the controversial Sky deal. He expressed that
“I have no strong opinion on it (the Sky deal), if the games are being exposed to a wider audience and the deal can improve and develop our games, I’m all for it.”
This showed that he is quite open minded regarding the new and latest exposure of hurling and football.
Another Hurling Revolution?
The changes in hurling during the mid 1990’s were well documented. Croke Park was getting bigger, sponsorship was growing, lesser teams were achieving more and this culminated in an excellent book being written by Denis Walsh entitled ‘Hurling: The Revolution Years’.
All of this took place right in the heart of DJ Carey’s hurling career. There was an irony that this revolution coincided with a dip in Kilkenny’s success and now questions are being asked as to whether hurling is about to embark on another revolution. Kilkenny were dethroned, Clare won the All-Ireland, Limerick and Dublin lifted provincial crowns. DJ agreed that another revolution was beginning but was quick to give credit to his native county for this revolution.
“Kilkenny deserve huge credit for the state of hurling (in the modern era).”
DJ was referring to the Kilkenny team that won five out of six All-Ireland titles between 2006 and 2012. The previous revolution saw the likes of Offaly, Wexford, Clare and Limerick dominate the game and the superpowers of Kilkenny, Cork and Tipperary were nowhere to be seen.
Kilkenny went back to basics and totally took over from 2001 all the way to 2012. They were the team to beat and Carey feels that the current teams have had to work very hard to get back up to competing with Kilkenny.
“Kilkenny brought a standard to the game and their players and coaches went all over the country spreading the game. As a result of this other counties learned and based their new regimes on the successful templates started by Kilkenny. They now appear to be adapting and now we have a case where all teams can beat anybody.”
He was very positive about the current standing of the game of hurling. There is no doubt that we now have a very exciting hurling championship as shown by the 2013 season and the start of the 2014 season.
A very firm point was made to say that counties have had to get up to the phenomenal standard that had been set by Kilkenny and that is why hurling is in such a good state.
The career of DJ Carey will never be forgotten. For years he carried a struggling Kilkenny side. The gap between 1993 and 2000 shows the barren period that Kilkenny went through and many would argue that those seven years were the prime of his career. He was an excellent forward who has achieved all the game has to offer and set a legacy for many to follow.
DJ Carey’s achievements cannot be questioned and one has to admire the way he conducted himself throughout his career. Very few players provided the same amount of individual moments of brilliance. There was the performance against Galway in 1997, the goal against Clare the same year, the goal against Clare in the 1998 All-Ireland semi-final, the semi-final and final performances in 2002; the list goes on.
DJ Carey is without doubt a hero of the game of hurling. Kilkenny and hurling go hand in hand. They have a long history and there is no doubt that after seventeen years, 34 goals and 195 points, DJ Carey is an integral part of Kilkenny hurling folklore. Stories about his talent and greatest moments in the black and amber jersey will be told for many years to come.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena.
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